Jas Sansi recovers from Conservative Party Conference. Prime Minister Theresa May waltzes back to London having buried the ghost of the Manchester speech.
I’m writing this from the comfort of my bed as I nurse the aches and pains of lugging my camera bag and mac book around party conference over four days. The Health App on my phone is telling me my steps were almost as impressive as the PM’s.
I’m catching up on news coverage of the conference. The event is huge and everyone’s experience is unique. News coverage allows a degree of appreciating the wider picture. Impossible inside the eye of a storm.
I can’t imagine the party leadership could have wished for a better conference. Things that can’t be controlled, like the weather and Boris Johnson failed to distract from the event.
The sun stayed out in Birmingham for most of the time but failed to shine out of the former Foreign Secretary’s rear for any longer than the 90 minutes he spent in Brum.
I was photographing a Commonwealth Games fringe event when Boris Johnson surfed into the venue on a wave of a media scrum. Two of the panellists arrived late to the fringe having been delayed by the chaos around Bojo. His actions make for good TV but he causes disruption to others.
Delegates start to queue for the PM’s speech three hours before it starts to guarantee a seat. There are 2200 places available in Symphony Hall, some are reserved for Cabinet members, party donors etc. The remainder are allocated on a first come first serve basis.
The PM’s speech rallied the party activists, the foot soldiers who knock on doors and deliver political leaflets up and down the country come rain or shine.
Birmingham shone in many ways in delivering this conference. The 8 minute walk from New Street Station to the ICC is a building site. The Midland Metro extension through Victoria Square leads to the development of Paradise in Chamberlain Square which leads into the redesign of Centenary Square in front of the newly constructed HSBC headquarters.
So perhaps not the best pathway but it illustrates the city is on the up. And when the party returns in 2020, there’s no guarantee the builders will have packed away their tea mugs and spirit levels but the city will be enjoying it’s newfound confidence.
2020 is a significant year for Brum. The infrastructure for the Commonwealth Games will be powering forward, HS2 will be in the process of throwing a lasso around the capital and pulling it closer to our city. Our relationship with the EU will be clearer as transition nears the finish line. Metro Mayor, Andy Street will be up re-election and the bid for hosting the Conservative Party will be opened.
This year’s conference at Birmingham ICC set the bar for hosting an event of this magnitude to an incredibly high level from last year’s fiasco in Manchester.
The PM losing her voice brings the Manchester Central venue’s air cycling into question, conference is a incubator for germs with so many people in close proximity. The prankster who handed the PM a P45 during her speech should never have got close to her, this made a mockery of the security procedures. The set falling to pieces during the address was embarrassing for the PM. mortifying for venue operations.
Outside of the PM’s speech, delegates have to walk through a cordon of abuse from protestors in Manchester. Everyone has the right to protest in a democracy but its unfair to target delegates, media and venue staff who find themselves at the receiving end of verbal abuse. Sticks and stones and all that but this shouldn’t happen. It doesn’t happen in Birmingham.
It’s going to be difficult for Manchester Central to pitch their city as a venue post 2020.
This year’s conference in Birmingham was a master class in how to deliver an event of this size and complexity.
What does Birmingham and the ICC have to offer in an effort to entice a conference that injects Millions of pounds in the West Midlands?
Lets start with location; Birmingham is at the heart of the rail and road network. A train arrives into New Street every 37 seconds.
The iconic Spaghetti Junction is an interchange that allows road traffic from all parts of the motorway network.
Birmingham Airport is 20 minutes from the city centre by car and 10 minutes by train.
London, Bristol, Manchester, Liverpool and many of the UK’s core cities are two hours away.
Hotels, Serviced Apartments and Air B and Bs are more than ready to accommodate the 15,000 visitors the conference draws in.
That’s logistics and accommodation. Once here, the venue is in the heart of the city, a ten minute stroll from the train station. It will have a tram stop come 2020 or you can hop into a black cab, mini cab or uber.
Security into the ICC is robust but efficient. Once into the secure zone, which incorporates the Hyatt Hotel, you could in theory stay within the bubble for the four day duration. This would be a shame as the city has so much to offer.